Group crit­i­cizes re­sponse to dis­crim­i­na­tion al­le­ga­tion

Calgary Herald - - CITY + REGION - OLIVIA CON­DON ocon­

A lo­cal anti-racism ad­vo­cacy group is call­ing a Cal­gary-based en­ergy com­pany’s re­cent re­sponse to racial dis­crim­i­na­tion al­le­ga­tions “dis­turb­ing.”

Athabasca Oil Corp. (AOC) is­sued a re­sponse Tues­day fol­low­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of an anony­mous let­ter that al­leges the com­pany has been dis­crim­i­nat­ing against peo­ple of colour in their hir­ing and fir­ing pro­cesses.

In the anony­mous let­ter, sent to var­i­ous me­dia out­lets, Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi and other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials Mon­day, the au­thor claims AOC has been favour­ing white em­ploy­ees over peo­ple of colour in re­cent lay­offs.

The let­ter goes on to item­ize in­stances of peo­ple of colour be­ing let go in favour of white em­ploy­ees, and notes that all mem­bers of the com­pany’s lead­er­ship team are white, pos­ing the ques­tion, “was there no op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote a (per­son of colour)?”

Ac­cord­ing to the AOC web­site, all mem­bers of their board of direc­tors — six men and one woman — are white.

On Tues­day, AOC is­sued a news re­lease say­ing they were “dis­turbed” by the let­ter, go­ing on to de­fend the em­ploy­ment de­ci­sions, say­ing they “be­lieve that each of these de­ci­sions were made based solely on ten­ure, per­for­mance, po­si­tion, project re­quire­ments or other busi­ness fac­tors.”

AOC then notes that the board of direc­tors has struck a “spe­cial com­mit­tee of direc­tors to over­see this mat­ter,” by en­gag­ing third-party ex­perts to con­duct a re­view of poli­cies and prac­tices “es­pe­cially as they con­cern po­ten­tial is­sues of un­con­scious bias and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion.”

Ja­son Devine, spokesman for the Cal­gary Anti-racist Ac­tion group said the com­pany’s re­sponse is “deeply dis­tress­ing” for a num­ber of rea­sons.

“I think one would have to be se­verely naive or con­sciously ly­ing to think that for some rea­son any as­pect of the oil and gas in­dus­try wouldn’t be in­fected or tainted by racism,” Devine said.

Cal­gary Anti-racist Ac­tion was formed in 1988 to fight all forms of racism, but works specif­i­cally on “go­ing af­ter hate groups, de­tail­ing them, ex­pos­ing them and con­fronting them,” and act­ing in sol­i­dar­ity with Black Lives Mat­ter.

“In all hon­esty, I find (AOC’S re­sponse) frankly, pretty puerile. Maybe 10 years ago the bare min­i­mum was to say, ‘We don’t like racism, racism sucks’ but the bar has been raised and it can go a heck of a lot fur­ther to say, ‘Well, not only does racism suck, but we ad­mit it ex­ists,’” he said. “That let­ter is re­ally just pro forma.”

Devine added AOC’S re­sponse doesn’t in­clude any specifics about the com­mit­tee or its man­date.

“It doesn’t say who is on this com­mit­tee, it doesn’t give met­rics of what the com­mit­tee is sup­posed to do and look at ... so there’s zero trans­parency.

“Fur­ther, it’s dis­turb­ing that be­fore they even men­tion this com­mit­tee, they state they be­lieve that ev­ery one of those things men­tioned in the let­ter comes down to skill, so au­to­mat­i­cally at the be­gin­ning they say, ‘We don’t be­lieve any of this hap­pened here,’ so they just prej­u­diced their own claims to do any­thing about it.”

AOC CEO Robert Broen said the com­pany is “not tak­ing is­sue with the facts” but that an in­de­pen­dent third-party re­view is needed to fully ad­dress the con­cerns stated in the let­ter.

“We’ve been trans­par­ent with our em­ploy­ees so I’ve shared our re­sponse with them to make sure they’re aware of it and, frankly, we be­lieve in the in­tegrity and de­cency of our man­age­ment team,” he said. “We want to keep an open door to make sure we hear feed­back and have an av­enue for em­ploy­ees to talk ei­ther with man­age­ment or hu­man re­sources if needed.”

Broen said the com­mit­tee has been formed and con­sists of two board mem­bers who will as­sist in a re­view, but couldn’t speak to a spe­cific time frame or any or­ga­ni­za­tions that AOC has reached out to for as­sis­tance in the re­view process.

When asked about a lack of di­ver­sity on the board, Broen said “the board rec­og­nized they don’t have the ex­per­tise to do a re­view like this so they need to seek as­sis­tance.”

In re­sponse to some of Devine’s comments, Broen said the re­view is in­tended to iden­tify any “po­ten­tial is­sues that may ex­ist.”

“And this in­cludes the po­ten­tial for un­con­scious bias and also ... we would look not only at the spe­cific re­cent ex­am­ples pro­vided in the email but the broader con­text of de­ci­sions that were made over the last few years,” Broen said.

Devine said, gen­er­ally, any or­ga­ni­za­tion that’s look­ing to make change needs to first ad­mit there’s a prob­lem and then ap­proach it from a bot­tom-up, not a top-down way.

“They have to look at what peo­ple on the ground are ac­tu­ally do­ing, what pro­cesses ac­tu­ally work,” he said. “They’d have to be up front and trans­par­ent and if they don’t in­clude, in a very real way, the thoughts, the con­sid­er­a­tions and the de­mands of peo­ple im­pacted, it’s mean­ing­less.”

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